Wednesday, May 4, 2011
(April 1939, U.S.)
I gotta tell you, it feels good to post a black and white classic again. Feels like it's been too damn long...
There's something about a drama like DARK VICTORY in which you know ahead of time that the hero (in this case heroine, played by Bette Davis) is going to die at the end of the film that seems to give it more meaning. At the very least, it holds your morbid interest a little longer because you develop questions along the way? How will she die? How will she live the life she has left? How will it finally happen in the end? For my generation, dying young on screen came in the form of films like LOVE STORY (1970) and DYING YOUNG (1991). But just imagine movie audiences in 1939 watching the glamourous Bette Davis meeting her tragic demise with such dramatic bravery and grace. There HAD to be tears in the theater.
Davis' character, Judith Traherne, is a young, carefree Long Island socialite and heiress with a passion for horses, fast cars, and too much smoking and drinking. She ignores her severe headaches and brief episodes of dizziness and double vision, but when she takes a bad spill while riding, and then tumbles down a flight of stairs, her secretary/best friend Ann King (played by Geraldine Fitzgerald) insists she see the family doctor, who then refers her to a specialist Dr. Steele. He reluctantly agrees to see Judith, who is cold and openly antagonistic toward him. She shows signs of short-term memory loss, but dismisses her symptoms. Dr. Steele convinces her the ailments she is experiencing are serious and potentially life-threatening, and puts his career plans on hold to tend to her. Turns out its a brain tumor and the planned surgery will not completely remove it. Judith has less than a year to live. The end will be painless but swift - shortly after experiencing total blindness, Judith will die. But guess what - Judith doesn't know because Dr. Steele doesn't inform her in order to permit her happiness during the time she has left. As you can probably guess, this deception backfires when she inevitably discovers her fate. And in case you didn't guess this one, either - Judith and Dr. Steele fall in love. Of course.
As far as the final moment is concerened, I have to say it's one of the more touching and saddening film deaths I've ever seen. Judith realizes she's actually losing her vision and approaching the end of her life. After bidding her best friend Ann, her housekeeper and her faithful dogs farewell, she climbs the stairs and lies down on her bed. We see her face and the image blurs to grey as she dies peacefully. Awwwww. How can even the strongest of movie watchers not shead a tear?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Judith: "Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can't be destroyed. That's our victory - our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we're not afraid."
Like I said...awwwwwww!